Are Women Changing the Rules of Negotiation?

Why does society sell women short when it comes to negotiating?  Women are in bargaining positions on a daily basis — from getting the family to agree on a vacation destination, to motivating compliance in a child, and finding win-win solutions when it comes to allocating their time to others.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t always translate to expectations in business world.

Overcoming expectations

Social stereotypes have had a significant impact on how women are perceived in negotiations.  Do women really prefer to avoid negotiating because they feel they are less effective?  There’s no significant research to indicate that gender has a measurable impact on negotiation, whether positive or negative.  So the issue seemingly lies in male and female expectations of a woman’s ability to negotiate.  “…society expects males to be more aggressive, while females are expected to be more cooperative (i.e., less aggressive),” and “…the dominant stereotype of the successful negotiator is composed mostly of masculine traits.”

The promising news is that the tide is changing.  Businesses are approaching negotiations from a “win-win” rather than a “win-lose” model, which utilizes a woman’s natural propensity to create relationships and equality.  “…[women] are more aware of the relationship between negotiators, whereas [men] are more task-specific…When engaged in integrative (i.e., “win-win”) negotiations, women may actually have an advantage over men, as more cooperative behavior is required.”

A woman’s natural advantage

When seated at the bargaining table, men take the competitive route and women are more collaborative in their approach.

“‘Women tend to ask more questions to try to gain more insight, to try to get to know the person better.’  In addition,…when women ask questions, ‘they often ask more open-ended questions which will elicit more information.  Anyone who does any negotiating knows that the best thing to do is ask questions and find out what your opponent is thinking because that will certainly help you formulate a strategy.’”

Selena Rezvani (@NextGenWomen), a Washington Post Columnist and author, has written extensively on women’s roles in leadership.  In a fantastic article on negotiation she addresses how women have begun to work past the obstacles –

“Women that make it to the top also challenge long-standing beliefs in order to get themselves to the negotiating table. They push back on the ‘good girl’-isms with which they grew up. They didn’t buy into: ‘Be seen and not heard,’ ‘Always be nice’ or ‘Don’t be too outspoken.’ On the contrary, to survive in a top role, they ask for what they want. They’re firm. They don’t accept what’s unacceptable…

Getting clear on why we’re asking, and knowing that we deserve a seat at the table and that our case is worth pursuing can make the difference. Women who negotiate ignite a deep, healthy kind of self respect… A woman can work on being well networked or technically brilliant, but without the ability to ask she has nothing.” (emphasis added)

So what does it take to get to the top?  It’s not a matter of women being incapable or even unwilling to assert themselves and ask for what they want.  Many just need the tools and the confidence to learn how to do it effectively.

Avoiding rookie mistakes

As with any other skill, successful negotiation tactics need to be nurtured.  Lee Miller, a contributor for, interviewed more than 50 of our nation’s most successful businesswomen.  Of the 10 most common mistakes women make during negotiations, the three biggest are:

  • Not seeing situations as opportunities to negotiate.
  • Not negotiating for themselves like they would for someone else.
  • Not being willing to say no.

Everyone is the new kid on the block at one time or another, so if you are intimidated by the thought of pushing for what you want, keep in mind, the more you do it, the easier it will become.  You might scrape your knees a few times along the way, but men do too.

Mastering the art

Now that you know what not to do, let’s take a look at what you should do to enhance your ability to negotiate successfully in your business –

  • Take advantage of every opportunity to negotiate.  Face your challenges head on, because practice will make you better in the long run.
  • Believe that you are worth getting what you want.  Women inadvertently sell themselves short, so it’s important to embrace your strengths and leverage them with confidence.
  • Take the initiative to go after what you want.  If you wait around for people to notice you and reward you for a job well done, you will spend a lot of time waiting.  The women who do make it to the top, get there because they made it happen.
  • Be ready to take control – emotionally, mentally, physically.  You must be the one to set the tone for any negotiation. Check your emotions at the door and put on your game face.
  • Always have a thorough plan in place.  You must know what you want, what you are willing to give up, and how far you can be pushed.  You also need to understand what the other side wants, how you will support your position if faced with an objection, and be willing to play the game when the opposition is in it for the win too.

Becoming a great negotiator is vital to your business success.  If you haven’t had much experience, seek out opportunities to leverage your natural talents, just like you do each day in your personal life.  The main difference is merely the players.

© 2010 Reece International LLC/Dr. Shannon Reece. All rights reserved.


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Dr. Shannon Reece – The One Trusted Woman in a Man’s Business World

Starting your own business can be tough, but having the right tools makes all the difference.  Dr. Reece provides the strategies and tactics women need to get their businesses from zero to launch and achieve real results.  For more information visit

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